Tank Away Getaway

Daytripping on the Unicoi Turnpike in the North Georgia Mountains

A day long road trip, and adventure seeking, has to have several key ingredients. A historical point of interest, natural wonders of nature, food and fun that invites you to relax which create a day long experience. Recently, we took off to Georgia, via Highway 123 from Clemson.  Soon, the fast pace of a four lane freeway narrowed into a two lane blue highway that meanders from the foothills of South Carolina, across the Chauga River, the Tugalo, and Lake Hartwell into Northern Georgia.  Along the route, vistas of Lake Hartwell invite you to stop and take in the views or have a picnic. We were just across the wide vista of the Tugaloo River, on the road leading into Georgia, when a historical marker caught my eye. Travelers Rest Historic Site,sits just off this well beaten path.  Well beaten because this route is actually part of the Unicoi Turnpike, a historical link between East Tennessee, Western North Carolina, and North Georgia which first opened in 1813 as a toll road by the Cherokee Indians and early settlers.

As we crossed Lake Hartwell, we passed the historical marker for Traveler’s Rest. We decided to turn around and check it out. When day tripping, U-turns and backtracking are expected and often necessary. We arrived at Traveler’s Rest early on a Friday morning. Unfortunately, it was closed, but we were able to walk around the grounds and take a few pictures. The historical marker, along with pamphlets on the porch, provided enough history to get us hooked so we plan on going back one weekend when they are open. A quick google search about this famous site, provided more than enough background information about how this home was a stagecoach inn and plantation built in 1815, and added on to in later years. Originally part of a 14,400-acre plantation, I can only imagine what happened at this site, who might have stayed here, and what could be learned from studying this site alone. From interactions with Native Americans, to the Civil War, this place is steeped in history. One of the most interesting resources I found about Traveler’s Rest is a book called Travelers Rest and the Tugaloo Crossroads, by Robert Eldridge Bouwman. The full text of the book is found on the internet archive site and is also on Amazon.com. https://archive.org/stream/travelersresttug00bouw/travelersresttug00bouw_djvu.txt

In my research about Traveler’s Rest, I found an article about Mary Jarrett White, who was the last owner of the site and eventually sold Traveler’s Rest to the state of Georgia in 1955. White was the first woman to vote in the State of Georgia after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment 1920. What was even more interesting, was that she was the only woman to vote in Georgia in that election because women were required to register to vote six months before the election. That means women that year had to register before the 19th Amendment was even passed. White somehow was able to register early, which makes me wonder, how did she know about the rule? I plan on researching her more. 

We continued the Unicoi Turnpike Road, or highway 123 through Toccoa and then to Toccoa Falls. Over the years, I knew about Toccoa Falls, but never visited. Just google Toccoa Falls weddings, and look at the pictures of weddings held at this famous site. The falls are actually on campus at the Toccoa Falls College. To get there, go through the main gate at the college and follow the road around to the back of the campus. Go through the gift shop and visitor’s center, and pay a $2 fee before going out to the path to the falls. The path itself is easy and so most people will not have trouble getting to the falls, at only .40 of a mile.  When we arrived at the falls, they were setting up for one of the weddings. Church pews had been set out and were being decorated for the big event, which was to take place at five later that evening. Toccoa Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls I have seen. I especially love the way a rainbow appeared just as the water hit the blue green pool at the bottom. After resting at this natural wonder for a while, we headed back to the highway to see what was next. 

We visited Helen, Georgia several times over the years. I have always loved the beautiful colors in the little German Town created in the late 1960s. Helen as it is known today was created to replace a lost income due to decline in the lumber industry during that era. The buildings are all built in the Bavarian style and Bavarian music and food can be found in most of the businesses. In October, Helen has the longest running Octoberfest in the country. While in Helen, we decided to eat at Paul’s Steakhouse, which sits beside the river. As we ate, we watched people float down the river on tubes which is a favorite activity in Helen. Our steaks were well seasoned with traditional sides.  Helen has a variety of pubs and Bavarian themed restaurants to choose from. We were there around 4:00 and ate an early dinner, but they fill up quickly on the weekends, so the trick might be to get there early in the month of October, which is a popular month for visiting Helen. Be sure to check out the website for Helen before going. There is so much to see and do. If you have children, they will love the festive atmosphere. https://helenga.org/

If you want to stay for the night, there are a few hotels that you can try, but we decided to head back after dinner. On our return trip, we came back through Clayton, Georgia. We rode through the beautiful Lake Burton area and then Clayton. Clayton is a great place to stop and shop or eat as well, with many choices in this nice small town. One of my favorite spots in this part of Georgia, is the Dillard House in Dillard, Georgia just one town up highway 441 from Clayton. On a previous trip this summer, we made our periodic trip there to get our fill of all you can eat family style southern cooking, much of it grown right on the farm that the Dillard House overlooks. It is a beautiful setting, and there is lodging at the Dillard House. Children will love this spot because it offers a petting farm, and horseback rides. 

Our trip back to South Carolina, had us winding through Longcreek and making lists of places we plan on visiting on our next trip to the North Georgia Mountains. I am looking forward to a trip to Chattooga Belle Farm soon where they have a bistro and distillery and beautiful scenery.  We have been traveling on these day trips all our lives, but the scenery never gets old, and what I find refreshing is there are always new places popping up to try out. 

At the end of the day, we were home before dark, and were able to sleep in our own beds. This road trip had all the necessary ingredients for a good solid adventure, history, nature, and some good food and left me looking forward to the next trip that we can take!  I hope this inspires you to take a trip of your own, and when you get back, dig deeper into the parts that interest you the most. 

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